37, college grad, 2x married, one son, one stepdaughter, four cats, one idiot dog, one very small house and small garden.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Happy Campers

Thanks to the amazing largesse of my ex-husband, my son and I just spent four days in the woods in a rather rustic cabin with outdoor plumbing at an altitude of 8,400 feet. Major nosebleed city. And Connor had the Technicolor Yawn disease. And we had a wonderful time.

We went to Diabetic Youth Services' family camp for families with diabetic children. (My goodness. I believe that was two redundant sentences in one. Although I can't think of any other way to explain it.) Their mission is to educate the parents of diabetic children while providing a fun and accepting atmosphere for the children themselves. What this boiled down to was me sitting in classes and workshops for four days and Connor riding mountain bikes and learning archery. Seems a bit one sided to me, but he did have fun. And during family free time I learned how to make a lanyard. Goody! (Also, as I had quite a few unexpected cravings for cigarettes, I made quite a few lanyards. If you get one in the mail from me for the holidays, you'll know when I made it.)

All joking aside, the service this organization provides is amazing. Most diabetes focused groups are looking for a cure, raising money for research to help find the cure. That is of paramount importance, I agree. And one organization in particular, the JDRF, or Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, is excellent and deserves our support. However, the DYS asks, "What about the kids who have it now? How can we help them?"

The answer was: develop a camp where these kids can go to be normal. In the everyday world, no matter how hard they try to fit in, they will always be different. Set apart. But for one precious week every summer, they can go into the San Bernardino mountains to a camp that was founded for the sole purpose of making them fit in. Of helping them cope. Of helping them discover how wonderful they are, that they aren't a disease or a blood sugar number or a chronic patient. And they succeed spectacularly.

I have never in my life seen my son more at ease with his peers. He never once shied away from saying out loud, "Hang on, guys, I need to check my blood sugar," because he knew the others would understand. He never tried to skip a test or a shot. He lived his camp life the way I wish he could live his real life: turning diabetes into just a part of his life, rather than an obstacle to it.

And he and I bonded again. We had a marvelous opportunity to rediscover each other without the rest of our families hanging about. Especially on 'Barf Boy' day. (This is his new secret identity, Barf Boy. I'll refrain from describing his secret super power.) At four in the morning on Wednesday, our entire cabin (four mothers and their sons) were rustled from slumber by the rude sound of my son hurling like an Olympic discus champion. It was one of the more disgusting moments of my life. And highly embarrassing. Not for myself alone, but for Connor as well. He felt terrible and kept apologizing for waking everyone up. At first I tried to clean up all the mess and take care of Connor by myself, but then two of the mothers, Carol and Bonnie, pushed me out to take care of Connor while they finished cleaning up the mess in the cabin. I have never been more grateful for help in my life, with the exception of the help of the cranial suction machine they used on Connor during his birth. (Now there's a Godsend.) They laughed and joked about it, and commiserated with my son about how he felt. It was potentially one of the most emotionally damaging moments of Connor's life (three women and the boys he's made fast friends with see him in his most vulnerable and smelliest moment) but because we were all there with the single purpose of trying to understand ourselves, our children, and each other, it simply became an event, one to chuckle about gently but nothing to ridicule anyone about. Although I owe a serious debt to those two women...Bonnie and Carol, if you ever need a big mess taken care of, give me a call.

So there we were, Barf Boy and Pollen Mom (Oh...I forgot. I had such a bad reaction to the pollen up there that one eye swelled almost completely shut. The doc gave me something to fix it eventually.) alone at the camp with only a couple of maintenance people and the doctor for company on a 180 acre camp. The day Connor got sick the entire camp was going to the lake for the day. So we had to miss it. But it was a blessing in disguise; Conn and I played cards and Yahtzee, went for a couple of walks, cuddled, read books, and made rude noises and jokes about his barf bucket. (At one point, Carol started giggling and said she didn't think she'd ever heard the word 'barf,' so many times in one day. I had to agree, even though I was the one saying it.) We talked about the future, and we talked about how we feel about diabetes and the complications and our fears about it. And none of that would have happened on an average day. We were able to talk about diabetes openly because of the support the staff gives to the kids and their parents. Most of the staff are former campers themselves so they've lived with diabetes for a long time. The kids look up to them and frankly, they deserve the adulation. I can't remember the last time I saw a group of young adults who were so well adjusted, pleasant, and intelligent. (But I do have to say that the body piercing thing is C'mon guys.)

All in all, the experience was probably one of the best of my life. The food was awful (I'm used to lighter, more 'easy gourmet vegetarian' fare), the bathrooms and showers icky, and the trails dusty. And it was all amazingly wonderful. I wouldn't change a single thing about it. I learned so much about myself and my son. American Express thinks it has cornered the market on the 'priceless' moment...I beg to differ. I just had the prieless moment and Amex had nothing to do with it.


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